More Incentive for Responsive Design, Bing Announces Advantage

Last month the Bing team announced a new mobile-friendly tag to be attached to search results. They also stated there will be subtle ranking advantages to sites deemed mobile friendly. Either way it means your public facing web presence should be a mobile first, responsive design.

Bing Mobile Friendly Tag

The announcement comes on the heels of Google's recent mobile first initiative that created 'Mobilegeddon' on April 21. While the impact has been minor so far, my gut feeling is you will see the impact more and more over the coming months. The biggest reason why the impact has not been broader is due to so many sites not leveraging a mobile first approach. I also think most companies are still evaluating their search engine rankings as a desktop computer and not mobile. I believe mobile search results reflect these changes more than traditional desktop searches. Since Google is now reporting around 60% of their search traffic comes from mobile this is a very important signal to cover for all web properties.

Since mobile devices generate more than half the search traffic now having a responsive mobile first web presence is a clear competitive advantage. Customers are using mobile more and more as a primary means to discover the web. Even if the search engines were not using mobile capable as a ranking signal you are leaving your business vulnerable by not offering a mobile friendly experience. Because users are on mobile devices more than they are on desktops and laptops they are choosing vendors that offer a positive experience on the device they choose to use. This means you are choosing to leave money on the table and grow your competitor's business.

The Bing announcement reveals a little more as to why they are implementing the mobile friendly tag, users like it:

We received great feedback from this change in user experience showing that users strongly prefer pages marked with the mobile-friendly tag. Based on data from user’s interaction with Bing, we have seen that mobile users are able to satisfy their information needs much faster on searches that return more mobile-friendly results

When the majority of your traffic comes from mobile and your business is to provide the best results you are going to generate results your customers want so they will return. If Bing and Google's users both want mobile friendly results you should take that as a strong signal your web presence should be mobile first and responsive.

Factors

Bing's announcement also details four factors that define what a mobile friendly site is:

  • Navigation
  • Readability
  • Scrolling
  • Compatibility

I would agree these are 4 basic qualities of a mobile first user experience. The only thing I would add is good performance, but both Google and Bing already rate performance as a ranking signal. Navigation is the only consistent trait users want more than performance in a client application experience.

Of course if you can't read the text on a phone you are not happy. I know as I have gotten older I have to squint more and more to read tiny text, especially on the phone. So readability makes sense.

I think it is interesting they want vertically scrollable and not horizontal because horizontal is or at least was one of the differentiating factors of the Modern Design Language. I realize Jacob Nielson and other UX researchers are finding similar results, so I am trying to reconcile this with something I personally like. Because I utilize absolute positioning in combination with scrolling I wonder if it is still rewarded. My fear here is their automated algorithm might only look for the main vertical scrollbar. The announcement says they will be gradually providing more information as to how web sites are evaluated.

The final criteria focuses on compatibility or does the site work across browsers and platforms. I think this is a good measurement to test because there is no reason to discriminate across platforms. This is where the Edge team's Site Scan tool can be helpful because it will identify many common compatibility issues. You can also use WebPageTest.org. The best solution is to have a device testing lab that contains a minimum set of devices.

Etsy's Device Testing Lab

I don't think you can build a good front end without having at least an iOS, Android and Windows touch devices because you need to experience your application as the end user does. I have around 15 in my home office to test applications.

Summary

The shift to mobile is clearly here. Unfortunately too many web sites are not prepared. They have put off too long the changes necessary to provide a good mobile first experience to their customers and potential customers. They are choosing to alienate the customers they have and turn away future customers. Both Google and Bing are both rewarding online web properties that provide a responsive mobile first experience to their visitors. This is inline with my personal development standards and goals.

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